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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Language analysis reveals recent and unusual 'moral polarisation' in Anglophone world

Andrew Masterson
Cosmos Magazine
Originally published March 4, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Words conveying moral values in more specific domains, however, did not always accord to a similar pattern – revealing, say the researchers, the changing prominence of differing sets of concerns surrounding concepts such as loyalty and betrayal, individualism, and notions of authority.

Remarkably, perhaps, the study is only the second in the academic literature that uses big data to examine shifts in moral values over time. The first, by psychologists Pelin and Selin Kesibir, and published in The Journal of Positive Psychology in 2012, used two approaches to track the frequency of morally-loaded words in a corpus of US books across the twentieth century.

The results revealed a “decline in the use of general moral terms”, and significant downturns in the use of words such as honesty, patience, and compassion.

Haslam and colleagues found that at headline level their results, using a larger dataset, reflected the earlier findings. However, fine-grain investigations revealed a more complex picture. Nevertheless, they say, the changes in the frequency of use for particular types of moral terms is sufficient to allow the twentieth century to be divided into five distinct historical periods.

The words used in the search were taken from lists collated under what is known as Moral Foundations Theory (MFT), a generally supported framework that rejects the idea that morality is monolithic. Instead, the researchers explain, MFT aims to “categorise the automatic and intuitive emotional reactions that commonly occur in moral evaluation across cultures, and [identifies] five psychological systems (or foundations): Harm, Fairness, Ingroup, Authority, and Purity.”

The info is here.

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